R.I.P, Phil Jasner, newsman

Loving a job is an extra-tricky thing these days, especially in the newspaper business. Beyond the harsh realities of the workplace — those jobs, lest we forget, rarely love us back — there is the added risk in daily print journalism that you’ll wake up alone one day. That job will be gone.

Didn’t matter to Phil Jasner, though, who loved his job as the Philadelphia Daily News’ beat writer on the Sixers and resident NBA expert. Best I could tell, based on comments about his bosses that you rarely hear (now or ever) from most sportswriters, the job loved him back. Better yet, Jasner, who moved onto the beat full-time in 1981, loved his work.

My friend Phil, who died at age 68 Friday after a long battle with cancer, tackled his work as a basketball writer with a zeal and curiosity that colleagues four decades younger rarely muster. The story — the latest news, the illuminating feature — mattered and that meant not just getting it first but getting it right. Another phone call to make, another fact to check, another source to question? Fine with Phil.

No other writer I’ve known was as eager to help and offer ideas to a pal or stranger. Phil treated the newbie covering the NBA for the first time as well as he treated the old dogs still pounding the beat into middle age. As far as I knew, he never ached to be one of the wise guys of a sports section — a columnist dealing in cheap emotions and snark. Instead, he seemed happiest to twist the old newspaper expression, “jack of all trades, master of none,” by being the master of at least one: Basketball, particularly in Philadelphia. They all knew it, from Billy Cunningham and Doug Collins to Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, and they’ll all miss it.

Wise guy of a sports section? That decade-deeps expertise — including knowing himself better than many of us ever do — made Phil a wise man. Like most whose names go on their work, he had an ego, and a temper too. But mostly he was a gentle man. And a gentleman.

Off-duty, Phil loved great meals and engrossing mystery novels, though I often saw him light up the most when he would nail the perfect road itinerary — flight times, hotels, dinner plans, other travel details — and share it with somebody. As much as we all travel, as much time as that gouges from real life, that was important stuff. He was as good a husband (wife Susie died in 2006 after battling lupus), father (Andy), grandfather, partner (Marcia) and friend to his loved ones as I’ve seen in a business that sometimes puts them last.

Phil Jasner’s funeral service was held Wednesday morning in Philadelphia and a big, eager, lovable part of the city’s basketball community — and the NBA’s media fraternity — was buried with him. I miss him already.

Here are some links to the page on the Daily News’ Web site that remembers Phil, to a nice tribute from his colleague Rich Hofmann and to one of Phil’s more recent NBA columns.

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